I’m in the process of typing out a book from the 1930s. Actually I’m in the process of typing from mostly legible copies of a book from the 1930s. I’ve had a few snags in being able to figure out the characters in part due to the bad quality of the copies and in part because I’ve only recently really begun to cram traditional characters into my head.

This isn’t quite the way to do it, I’d imagine.

The thing I’m enjoying most about working through these is that the book is not consistent by modern standards. Many of the glyphs are exactly as you’d expect them to be as traditional characters. Some are simplified, though very few. Still others are half-simplified.

The way I’m figuring them out, again in part due to the poor legibility, is by writing the ones I don’t immediately know into Pleco on my iPhone. Unfortunately this means I may either pass over the ones I’m trying to find, or I get two that are similar enough that it’s too hard for me to make a call on which, causing me to seek out a native speaker to try to decipher things for me.

One such example is 绝, written 絕 in traditional, made up of 糹,刀 and 巴. Note the 刀 changes for the simplified form. However this book gives 糹色 for 绝, keeping the traditional radical but the simplified strokes for the rest.

There’ve been a few others, but I’ve not kept track and now as I write this my eyes are too strained to go searching them out.

This book was published in Shanghai, and was targeting a very local audience. There’ve been a number of regional simplifications (e.g. 讓 becoming 让) that made it into the current simplification scheme. I’ve been on a long quest for lists of the specific proposals for simplification as far back as the 1920s but as of yet haven’t been able to come up with much.

This gives me at least a glance into where in the process this part of China was 80 years ago.

edit: Just came across one of the few cases in the text of a completely simplified character being used. 撲 is shown as 扑. It actually took me a minute as I searched my 繁體 IME for 扑 to realise it was probably actually 撲.

3 responses to “Undersimplification”

  1. jdmartinsen says:

    There are lots of cases listed and explained here (you’ll need a capable browser to get all of the variant characters). A chart (新旧字形对照表) often appears in the beginning of paper dictionaries, too.

    In most cases, these are variant printed characters that are more in line with handwritten forms, and they appear not infrequently in traditional character HK and Taiwan publications, depending on the particular character set used.

    Out of curiosity, is silk radical in the semi-traditional 绝 written with a 糹 (three dots at the bottom) or a 糸 (小 at the bottom)?

  2. JDMartinsen: The radical is 糹 with three dots, not 糸.

    In the case of this book, they’re not the sort of thing found on that Wikipedia page to which you linked. The whole book is actually handwritten, not printed. The variations are either characters for which a part matches the simplified form and a part matches the traditional, or cases where the character is quite different from either the modern simplified or traditional forms, either in the way the components are organised or else with the removal or addition of a stroke or two.

  3. Aaron Posehn says:

    I love this stuff. I could look at things like this (ie, the link from JDMARTINSEN -> http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/新字形 ) for hours!

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